The short version of the story is this: On the 14th January 2016, E's Uncle P (my twin brother) missed work for the 3rd day that week. Concerned by his absence without any explanation, his employers reported him missing to the police. The police searched for him, and found him dead in his bedroom at home. The postmortem report, weeks later, showed that he died from epilepsy. He must have had a seizure and suffered heart failure. He was only in his thirties at the time.
Telling E that she'd lost her uncle was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. He was her playmate, willing slave, and climbing frame. Only a week before his death she had pointed out to her Grandma that the seat next to her in the back of Grandma's car belonged to Uncle P, and noone else was allowed to sit there
Prior to starting preschool last September, E would see her Uncle P every Wednesday at Grandma's flat whilst I was at work. P would volunteer at an Oxfam charity shop in the morning then go to Mum's flat and spend the afternoon playing with E, or the three of them would go out. I'd join them in time for dinner, after which Mum would leave to play bridge with her friends, I'd give E her bath, P would clear up, and we'd do the goodnight routine. He always got a bedtime cuddle and kiss from his little niece. Invariably once she was in bed, the two of us would watch TV together, except I would be watching the programme and he tended to fall asleep on the sofa instead. Around 9pm he'd stir, say he felt tired and had to be up early for work. and would head home. Simple evenings but nice all the same.
We drew on The Lion King to tell E that her Uncle had died. Her Dad and I sat her down together to explain why Daddy had suddenly had time off work at home with her, and I'd been away visiting Grandma. We told her that we had sad news, that Uncle P had died just like Mufasa did in The Lion King. Her response was to burst into tears and run to her bedroom. She let us follow her in but wouldn't let us cuddle or comfort her, instead she sat on her windowsill and hid behind the curtains. She asked questions such as "Why did he die?" (we don't know), "Does he still love me?" (He has always loved you and always will) and said, "I don't want him to be dead" (us too). Gradually she became less distressed and later on she let me cuddle her.
Most young children faced with death are mourning a pet the first time they experience such loss. Well, we've not got any pets, but E had watched Topsy & Tim on TV. That evening she asked: "Mummy, on Topsy & Tim when Grandma's dog Mossy dies, she gets another dog. Will I get another Uncle P?". I explained why that wouldn't happen and she accepted it.
Amazingly (and despite everything I've read which suggested children under age 6 don't fully understand the concept of death), our smart little girl got it. She understood that P was gone and not coming back. She talked to family and her key worker at preschool about how she felt sad because she wanted to see him again and play. She spoke of wanting to do puzzles with him again.
E did not go to the funeral. It's tough for anyone who goes......but for a 3.5 year old? Too many loved ones upset, too many routines shot to pieces. Instead E stayed with her paternal grandparents and had a lovely time. She brought us home paintings that she did "for the funeral" on the morning of the service; even explaining to her Grandparents (if I remember correctly) that it was a bit late for the pictures as the funeral was already happening! She even made playdoh into shapes representing his being buried.
The funeral was.....how can I put it?.....as nice a funeral as I've ever been to. A real celebration of P's life, and it showed how he touched the lives of those around him. Always smiling, cheerful, friendly. That's what people said. So many whom I'd never met came and spoke to me about how fond he was of E, how much he spoke of her. One lady said,"He always asked after my Grandchildren because he knew I'd then ask him about her and he'd get to talk about her". People told me how he was excited about our wedding (happening next year), and being an usher. How he was looking forward to our family holiday in the summer. He is so missed.
We aren't a religious family. Someone at preschool told E that her Uncle would look down on her from above and always be in her heart. I explained that what they meant was that he will always be remembered, and that she can use her brain to think of him and see him anytime, as that's where she thinks her thoughts. All she has to do is close her eyes. She knows she can talk to him. She knows we still feel sad and that being sad is ok. Yet small children are resilient too and very matter of fact.
Shortly after P died, E and I were talking about her age because she reached 3.5. We talked about how she will be 4 at her next birthday, then 5, then 6 and so on. E turned to me and said ,"When it's your birthday, it will just be your birthday because you're not a twin anymore". See, I did say she's pretty smart!
P is buried in a Woodland Burial site. Later this year we will go and plant a cherry tree on his grave. When the blossom comes next Spring I will take E to see it. In the meantime, I know she won't forget him or how much he loved her, and neither will we.
|E having a cuddle with Uncle P, on the day they first met.|